October 16, 2014 – On reading other people’s blogs

There aren’t a lot of blogs that I follow, since reading print on a screen is a thing I dislike. (It’s difficult to stay focused when it’s so easy to scroll down, skipping for interesting words and the start of new paragraphs. Plus, a virtual page is hard to underline, impossible to fold up and save in your pocket so you remember it every time you reach for your phone, and difficult to rediscover on your kitchen table under the stack of magazines and recipes.) But I do enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts. One blog is written by a girl I knew in college, writing about writing, and I agree with much of what she says; she is an encouragement that there are other people struggling to write out there. One blog is by my best friend, dappled with colorful and artistic pictures of her life; hers is a calming, peaceful collection of thoughts. One blog is written by a woman who is almost but not quite related to me; she shares about her life and struggles as a person committed to creating art. There are others, and I always seem to find fascinating perspectives that people have shared on Facebook, some I agree with, and some I do not.

Reading other people’s blogs makes me wish I had more thoughts.

Actually, I tend to have lots of thoughts; it’s the processing and understanding them that is more difficult for me.

Reading other people’s blogs makes me wish writing was a more natural expression of my own thoughts.

I was a writing major in college, partially because I love words and communicating, and partially because it was the only major I got excited about.

And as much as I like to write, I am grudgingly coming to the realization that I am a vocal verbal processor. No matter how much I would like to say that I think best when I write, it’s not true. I can think and process when writing, but my go-to is talking. When I have new thoughts or something happens, usually my first instinct is to look for someone to talk to, another head to sift ideas through and another person to laugh at my life stories. When I explain something to someone else, I am explaining it to myself again, and I see it from different sides, realizing things I missed the first time around. And because a conversation has to start somewhere, from somewhere, it seems easier to organize a clump of thoughts when sharing them.

I would like to be a writing verbal processor; it would make living alone so much easier. (Have you ever tried to share an explosion of thoughts over text? Not so great.)

If I was a writing verbal processor, it would be easier for me to ponder and respond to the experiences and thoughts of the bloggers I read.

I wonder if this is a skill to be developed. I can but try.

October 8, 2014 – Need of Grace

From The Valley of Vision

 

O Lord,

Thou knowest my great unfitness for service,

my present deadness,

my inability to do anything for thy glory,

my distressing coldness of heart.

I am weak, ignorant, unprofitable,

and loathe and abhor myself.

I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do,

for I feel amazingly deserted by thee,

and sense thy presence so little;

Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth,

and the dreadful sin of my natre,

so that I feel all sin,

I cannot think or act but every motion is sin.

Return again with showers of converting grace

to a poor gospel-abusing sinner.

Help my sould to breathe after holiness,

after a constant devotedness to thee,

after growth in grace more abundantly every day.

O lord, I am lost in the pursuit of this blessedness,

and am ready to sink because I fell short of my desire;

Help me to hold out a little longer,

until the happy hour of deliverance comes,

for I cannot lift my soul to thee

if thou of thy goodness bring me not night.

Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender,

lest I offend my blessed Friend

in thought and behavior.

I confide in thee and lean upon thee,

and need thee at all times to assist and lead me.

O that all my distresses and apprehensions

might prove but Christ’s school

to make me fit for greater service

by teaching me the great lesson of humility.

September 23, 2014 – An awake mind

Tonight was a reading night for me. I intended to do nothing after work but read and write, and then go to bed early. I have twenty-one new books from a booksale this past weekend, plus four I borrowed from my good friend, plus another  borrowed one, plus one I got in the mail, plus five other books I bought a few weeks ago. My kitchen table is hosting Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, The Joy Luck Club, The Valley of Vision, Camino de Santiago, my journal, my study notebook, my Bible, and a running magazine to round everything off.
Somehow, reading around my run and cooking and eating dinner, I did not do as much reading and journaling as I had hoped. To be sure, I am now almost finished with the snapshots of some American-Chinese women, I know a little more about how to plan my pilgrimage, and I have a page in my journal devoted to answering some emotions, but I still feel that there is so much I could have done, so much I could still do.
I hopped on Facebook for a minute and saw a blogpost from a woman I know; I have never read her blog before, but from the one post, I knew it was one I would have to look into. (It will have to wait for another time when I have the freedom of WiFi.)
But why is it that an active, thinking mind sometimes seems more capable of seeing all that could be done than on what has been done? Do awake minds turn more readily outside of themselves, questing always for more knowledge and understanding and growth? I have found myself actively seeking conversations about books and serious, hopefully meaningful, topics more now that I’m reading routinely. My mind feels stretched and exercised, and I am ready to engage in discussions.
So tell me, what would you like to talk about?

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September 22, 2014 – “No pain, no gain”

I will freely admit that I am a wimp when it comes to the dentist. Even a simple cleaning is difficult for me, the scraping and whirring and vibrations, not to mention the difficulty of swallowing when there are tools and hand in my mouth. Part of my problem is when metal touches my teeth, I get shivers all over my body. (I won’t even let silverware touch my teeth. Ug.) Braces were torture.

Last month, I had my first filling. While I knew it would be unpleasant, I confess I had no idea what I was in for. The shot, the drilling, the stretching of my jaw, I didn’t know to expect any of that. (What did I actually expect? I have no idea. Let’s not talk about that.) I cried in the dentist’s chair.

Cried.

To my horror, the dentist told me I would need a second filling. As I lay there with the horrible drilling smell and the Novocaine making it difficult to breathe and swallow, I sincerely considered not coming back for the second procedure.

As I tried to reason with myself (cavities only get worse and better take care of it sooner rather than later), I suddenly realized the beauty of the phrase, “No pain, no gain.”

That simple sentence is usually brought out in an exercise/sporting context. “Ten more push ups! No pain, no gain!” “Five more suicide runs! No pain, no gain!” As I am not a sports person and I do not like pain, it has never been particularly motivating for me. I like to run, but I run because I enjoy it, not to feel sore muscles and painful feet and knees.

But the idea of suffering pain to do away with something, that is more understandable and relateable at this point in my life.

Pain to remove the cavity, sure, but also pain when cutting unhealthy things from my life.

Pain when someone questions my perspective, causing me to rethink my conclusions (usually leaving me better for it).

Pain when God shows a sin in my life that needs to be uprooted.

Pain when I realize that it’s going to take far more effort, intention, and grace to do away with the sin than I’d first thought.

If I turn away and reject the good pain, there is only the festering, unproductive pain of decay to expect. So I’ve started finding comfort and motivation in “No pain, no gain.”Still not as a sports illustration, but in a spiritual and personal way.

Do you have any usually phrases that encourage you?

September 15, 2014 – Read my thoughts

I’m devouring books again.

I was a great reader in high school, but during my college years, I couldn’t indulge my habit. Pleasure reading would have greatly interfered with my required academic reading. (Indeed, one Easter break, I started reading The Phantom of the Opera but didn’t manage to finish it before classes started again. Consequently, I was two days behind in my homework.)

When my reading groove is going, I am fast. For novels, I don’t try to figure out what will happen before it happens, because I am usually wrong and also I like to see what the message of the story is before deciding what I think. (It’s a conversation where I have to let the person, or book, have their say to be sure I understand and am able to speak on the same topic.)

While reading fast means I can get through lots of books quickly (Elanor & Park took me one day, as did The Memory Keeper’s Daughter), it also means I miss things. I have a friend who takes months to read something that I can finish in a few days, because she is processing and writing and responding the whole time. It had never occurred to me to try to regulate my pace before, but since that conversation, I have started connecting and thinking more about what I’m reading. I have been getting better at reading slowly and thoughtfully; The Undertaking lasted three weeks, since I intentionally set the book down after every chapter. My new CSLewis books will be similar reading; if I want to make sure I digest them, I need to take smaller bites of ideas and chew thoroughly. (Also, I hope to find people willing to discuss the books with me. I’m slowly coming around to admitting I’m a verbal processor.)

Maybe my intentional slower reading of certain books is why I am suddenly able to read more than one book at a time, provided they are different types. After all, what are you supposed to do between sections of The Problem of Pain or Sisters: the lives of America’s suffragists when your reading gears are still going? Why, pick up Geisha: A Life of course, or else Seven Daughters and Seven Sons.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how very many books there are and how, even if I do nothing but read for the rest of my life, I couldn’t read them all. Thank goodness for the ability to build a “Want to read” shelf on GoodReads.

 

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September 12, 2014 – Snippets of thoughts

Quiet nights bring different considerations. Here are a few of mine, while listening to Benjamin Francis Leftwich:

 

Relaxing can be found is different ways, sometimes even doing laundry.

 

I’m learning the power of deciding not to entertain thoughts that I don’t need to.

 

“…when pain is to be borne a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.” -CSLewis’ The Problem of Pain.

 

I’m particularly attached to the word indefatigable right now. I keep setting it in front of other works, like indefatigable grace.

 

“…grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” 2 Timothy 1:2b.

 

Peace is something I tend to forget about.

 

“Make my mind free from fear, you know I can’t do it on my own.” -Josh Garrels’ Children of the Earth

August 26, 2014 – Always default to generosity

There’s a woman, maybe only ten years older than me, standing too far out in the road. Is she waiting to cross? No, because she is waving her hands at me, making eye contact in a way that pedestrians usually do not. I slow to a stop and roll down the passenger-side window a few inches.

“Listen,” she starts, her hands no longer waving but up in a I-mean-you-no-harm way, “I’m not a crazy person, and I’m not on drugs or anything like that. I was just a victim of domestic abuse, and I’m short seven dollars on getting me and my kids to the women’s shelter, and I’m asking everybody, and I just need seven dollars.”

“Oh-uh-yeah,” I stammer, “Let me see what I have.” I fumble through my bag and pull out my wallet. Two dollars. “Here,” I hand them through the couple inches of space between the window and the car roof. “But, do you need a ride?” I ask, suddenly conscious of my recently-found conviction to pick up hitch hikers. After all, if there is a need that I can help, I have a responsibility to do what I can.

“No, I’ve got all my stuff. I just need seven dollars,” she says.

“Hang on.” I reach into the console of my car and grab the mason jar where I collect quarters, usually used for parking and spontaneous chicken nuggets. I shake coins into my hand and begin counting out the remaining five dollars. I can’t tell how many are in my hand, so I end up passing them to the woman. “Here, count these.”

As she starts counting them in fours, I realize that my car is still in gear, although somehow I thought to turn the four way flashers on. I shift into Park.

What am I doing, making her count out quarters? Do I expect her to give the extra back? Is it not better to “default to generosity,” as my uncle counseled me last month?

Shamed, I pour more coins into my hand and pass them to her. Surely, that must be enough.

“Thank you, thank you. I just want to get me and my kids on the next bus,” she says, one hand holding the money, the other her phone.

I remember the man and the pizza and my failure last month. “Can-can I pray for you?” I ask, hardly hearing my own words.

She fumbles with her hands and frees one up the reach inside the window, and I catch it with mine. I ask her name, and we pray for comfort and God’s love as another car drives around us. When we finish, she thanks me again and walks away, one hand held up by her head in a gesture reminiscent of triumph.

I drive away, shaking a little. I think of my desire to volunteer at the women’s shelter, wondering if this might be the first step. How can I ever discover if she made it or not? No shelter gives out information regarding the people there, so I won’t be able to call and check. But then I remember I know people who go to work there once a week; I can ask them to keep an eye out for her.

But doesn’t seven dollars seem like a lot to travel the fifteen-minute drive to get to the women’s center? I do not use the bus at all, but it does seem a bit steep. I feel a bit sick. Did I just get played? I remember being instructed many times to buy someone food instead of simply giving them money, which can be used for drugs or alcohol or anything. We aren’t supposed to enable people. It doesn’t take more than seven dollars, surely.

But I correct myself. It doesn’t matter. I am not called to determine whether I am being played or not; my job is to be ready to fulfill the need. After all, isn’t there a women’s shelter in Pittsburgh, which would cost more to get to?

There is no way for me to know what she is going to do with the money, but I chose to believe that she was being honest. With no other information that what she told me and my own reading of the situation, all I can do is try to meet the need I see.

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August 16, 2014 – The Lament of Eustace Scrubb”

This is a song by The Oh Hellos that has been much on my mind lately. I listen to it when I wash the dishes and when I run the bleachers. (If you don’t know the story of Eustace Scrubb, you should read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S.Lewis. For now, you should know he was a rotten jerk of a boy, who was transformed into a dragon as a result of laziness and greed. As this creature, he finally discovers the value of friendship and compassion. If you want to know what happens, go read the book.)

The band seems to have caught Eustace on the evening finally sees himself honestly for the fallen person he is. He is facing the fact that the ship will have to sail away from the island and leave him there in the morning, because they cannot stay and he cannot travel with them. There are a few lines in particular that give me pause.

“Brother, forgive me. I know that I’m the one to blame, cause when I saw my demons, I knew them well and welcomed them…”

“…When I touched the water, they tell me I can be set free…”

 

 

I do not own the song.

August 6, 2014 – Writing truth

When he was facing a blank page, Ernest Hemingway would tell himself, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know” (A Moveable Feast.) 

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay teaches her students a trick to begin the poetry-writing process, telling them to make a like of “Ten things I know to be true.” (During her TED talk, she told the audience to pick three. “If we all started sharing our lists out loud…at some point, you would realize someone has the exact same thing or one thing very similar to something on your list. And then someone else has something the complete opposite of yours. Third, someone has something you’ve never heard of before. And fourth, someone has something that you thought you knew everything about, but they’re introducing a new angle of looking at it.”

These pieces of advice have been an inspiration and an encouragement for me.

On this small planet wrapped in the expanse of the universe, there are many things that are true. When trying to decide what “the truest sentence is,” I choose not to define truest to mean the truth that I have known for the longest or the truth that is a the heart of life. Instead, I focus on the truth that is most forefront in my mind, the one that I feel at that time. Usually, this helps me to follow an emotion or a thought to the real issue, which is an opportunity for writing. One poem that has sprung from this exercise was on the temptation of running away.

When I write my list of truths, I generally do not have to find the full ten before I realize that the dynamic of two of the truths is one of tension or interest. My most recent poem from this exercise came from the truths that 1. I am a woman and 2. I believe that the Bible is the word of God. (This poem is not done. I had to put it aside for a while.)

Truths can be rough, forcing you to admit things that make you uncomfortable or making you change your mind about something that you’d rather not. Some truths are better shared and explored and struck with different ideas to see how they sound, but others are held quietly and closely until the right time.  Some truths are fact (I ate Frosted Bite-Sized Shredded Wheat this morning for breakfast,) and some are deeply held faiths (I hold to the truth that I am a sinner and Christ is my savior.)

While a poem about breakfast cereal may not be earth-shattering, I am not always trying to split the world in two with my poetry. And there may be many poems already about the grace of God, but sometimes I just want to add to the conversation from my angle.

What are some of the truths you write about?